Recent Christian Heritage School seniors not only unloaded a trailer full of 2,600 pounds of food at the City of Refuge Food Shelf one day this spring for their service project, but the students remained on site to sort, stock and shelve the items.

"That's the biggest thing, really, the follow through," said Tinsley Cramer, the student who pitched and organized Operation Fill the Truck. While it's not uncommon for schools to conduct food drives, nor atypical for the City of Refuge Dalton to be the beneficiary, the effort often ends there, but "us going in there to do the shelving (etc.) is what makes this a special senior project."

"I think it's really good for everybody to go there, see the work they do, and (understand) everything we collected is going to the right place," added Cramer, who was in her first year at Christian Heritage School. "Our main goal is to help all these people who need it."

City of Refuge Dalton assists members of low-income families and others in need.

Spending the day at City of Refuge Dalton, instead of dropping off items and leaving, should "make a lasting impression on students," said Reba Barnes, director of servant leadership at Christian Heritage School. "I hope they'll go on to volunteer there more down the road."

And this campaign can set an example for other grades to aim for, said senior Haddie Chambless. Younger students can "see this is a good thing, and that's it's possible."

Many of the school's students were already familiar with City of Refuge Dalton before this campaign, because "a lot of them have volunteered there over the years, and our football team spent a day there over Thanksgiving," Barnes said. "The students here truly get it."

The seniors collected items such as single-serve entrees with shelf life, macaroni and cheese, ravioli and soups. Cash donations were accepted and used to buy the food items.

"We've worked with Food City, and they get as much bang for our buck as possible" with the cash donations, Barnes said. The seniors signed up to "man the trailer in the mornings and afternoons" outside the school to be "a smiling face" as people donated, too.

"It's isn't always easy to get up early and go work at the trailer," Cramer said. "I'm really proud of everyone" in the 42-member class of 2021.

"We want to (demonstrate how) Christian Heritage is different from other schools, and this is one way, giving back to the community," said Chambless, who will attend the University of Georgia next year, perhaps to become a pharmacist. "City of Refuge is really big for a lot of people in the community."

Cramer's father has told her repeatedly from a young age that "there's a feeling you get from helping others that you just can't buy," she said. "It feels good to give, and I hope people in (this community) can have a few more meals than they would have otherwise."

All grades of the school got involved with the project, donating food and/or money, as did families of students and members of the community, Barnes said. "It just shows you how much people want to support something like this, digging deep in their pockets to make sure (the less fortunate) have enough during this time" of economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of Rock Bridge Community Church also donated, after Pastor Mark Hunnicutt mentioned the project at Cramer's request, she said, noting, "That was super sweet." She plans to study medicine or law at Emory University.

City of Refuge Dalton shifted to a mobile method of food delivery last year due to the pandemic, and "we sent out more than 250,000 meals," according to Van Smith, director of operations. "It worked extremely well, and we found a lot of need," particularly among "senior adults."

Chambless attended Christian Heritage School since kindergarten, and "service is ingrained into everyday life" at the school, she said. "This is an accomplishment that will stick in my memory, for sure."

Cramer, who lives in Murray County, was attracted to Christian Heritage School for her senior year because the school prized in-person education despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and she fell "in love" with the school for several reasons, including the close relationships she forged with teachers.

"It's more of a family here, and everyone has your back," but the emphasis on service was most important to her, she said. "I've never been to a school that wants (students) to serve others as much as Christian Heritage does."

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